duwinter


DuWinter's Muse

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Black Water Hattie (10 of I'm not even going to hazard a guess.)
duwinter

Title: Black Water Hattie (Chapter 10)
Author: duwinter
Fandom: DWP
Pairings: Miranda/Andy, Emily/Serena
Rating: PG-13

Dedication: This story is dedicated to two members of our community, the Raven a.k.a. unfortunateggs who has repeatedly asked for a sequel to my story No Swimmin. (Sorry, It started out to be, but this ain't it.) and mxrolkr, whose wonderful story Cerulean Blue (even though it's not finished, if you haven't read it, go do so now) midwifed the concept of this story. The other thing responsible for this story is the random occurrence of three songs that I happened hear back-to-back on my iPod one morning while walking my two dogs in the local dog park. The Charlie Danial's Band's The Legend of Wooly Swamp Jim Stafford's The Last Chant and Swamp Witch

Setting: AU. This takes place around the time of the film, but as AU's go this one is a bit out there.

Summery: A film Miranda and an AU Andy.

Disclaimer: The Devil Wears Prada and it's characters do not belong to me. No profit being made here. I'm just playing with the characters for a short while and I promise to put them away neatly when I'm through.

Comment: Comments feed the muse and the Muse is always hungry. Remember, a fat muse is a happy and productive muse. Comments and constructive criticism eagerly encouraged.

Credit where credit is due: All hail the mighty and all knowing jazwriter, beta Goddess extraordinaire. Offer sacrifice, bow and pay proper homage. Also humble thanks to a patient and exceptionally kind editor who puts up with the fact that I still struggle with writing my native language in any comprehensible manner.

Previous Installments Here:
Black Water Hattie, Chapter 1
Black Water Hattie, Chapter 2
Black Water Hattie, Chapter 3
Black Water Hattie, Chapter 4
Black Water Hattie, Chapter 5
Black Water Hattie, Chapter 6
Black Water Hattie, Chapter 7
Black Water Hattie, Chapter 8
Black Water Hattie, Chapter 9

Winter had come early to New York state, and it suited Miranda's mood perfectly. Desolate and cheerless, the landscape passed slowly by as she stared out the window of the town car. It hadn't even had the decency to snow. Just miserable cold and inconvenient freezing rain. Five months had passed since Andrea had departed. Five months that had seen Miranda's life spiral further and further out of her control.

The usual fifty-minute ride from Runway's offices to the Four Winds Hospital in Westchester, New York, had taken more than twice as long this afternoon due to what was likely an ice-related automobile accident slowing traffic down on I-684. This had given Miranda far more time to ruminate on the last year of her life than she wished.

Today had been a prime example of her continued struggles to maintain her dominion over Runway. Grinning like a fool at this morning's meeting, Irv jovially had informed her of additional cuts to Runway's budget, to be accomplished in the form of more staff layoffs. Such cuts had, of course, been approved by the board. The vote margin was, as it had been in all the votes that had gone against Runway's interests since Oliver's death, a single vote majority. Miranda's deceased friend's hand-picked replacement had been completely won over by Irv's smarmy manipulations and now sided with Elias-Clarke's CEO on every decision affecting the corporation. That meant that every decision regarding Runway's interests had gone contrary to Miranda's best judgment of what was good for its continued success. Today was the third time in five months budgetary cuts had dictated staff layoffs, and Miranda would not be able to avoid letting go at least one in four of her employees.

Deep cuts in every department had, of course, impacted staff morale, and every remaining manager was having to do more with less. That, in turn was affecting the quality of the magazine Miranda put her name to each month. The thousand little cuts Irv had arranged were bleeding the creativity out of the artistic process required to keep a magazine like Runway on top. The writing was on the wall, and it was only a matter of time before Elias-Clarke's flagship publication would lose so many market shares that any employee who had any choice would be looking for a way out. Miranda was subjected to watching all she had toiled over for decades slowly collapse in on itself.

She raised the privacy screen and bit down on the inside of her lip, fighting back the tears at the edges of her vision. Even before the most recent difficulties, Miranda had recognized that she had made a terrible mistake. Without Andrea's presence, without the loving care and devotion her young lover had lavished upon her, she was bereft. It seemed the only thing that had been preventing the tidal wave of difficulties and disappointment from drowning her was the daily kindnesses that Andrea had offered her. The girl's smile had been a balm against the steady rise of her opposition at Elias-Clarke.

On top of that, today was a Friday. With the weekend looming, Miranda was forced to consider another thing that she had lost. After Andrea's departure, things between Miranda and her daughters quickly became increasingly strained. Demands at work caused Miranda to be largely absent during weekends, and without Andrea being present at the townhouse, the twins soon decided that coming home on the weekends served little purpose. Things, in many ways, had reverted back to the way they had been before the strange fey woman had ever entered her and her daughters' lives.

Four Winds was one of the top-rated private children's psychiatric hospitals within commuting distance of Manhattan. It was certainly a significant improvement over the establishment that Mrs. Swineford's Academy had first sent her beloved Cassidy to on a seventy-two hour involuntary hold. Apparently her daughter had experienced a serious breakdown at the school just over a month ago. Miranda had arranged to have her daughter moved from the facility nearer the school to the top-rated one closer to the city as soon as the initial three-day hold had expired. Four Winds had insisted on a compulsory four-week commitment in order to conduct the necessary evaluation and stabilization process. This process had limited the number of times Miranda had been allowed to see her daughter, and Caroline had simply not been allowed to visit her sister at all.

Immediately after Cassidy's involuntary commitment, Miranda had spent several days trying to divine what had happened to her daughter. The initial consultations with the psychiatrists at the hospital where Cassidy had first been confined spoke of terrifying possibilities. Words were bandied around such as schizophrenia, affective psychosis, and dissociative disorders as possible causes for her daughter's erratic behaviors.

Miranda had spent nearly a full day at Mrs. Swinford's Academy attempting to discover exactly what had occurred and how she had been blindsided by the fact that her beloved daughter was in crisis. The staff said that her daughter's behavior had, over the course of several months, become increasingly bizarre. According to some of Cassidy's friends at the school, at first she had become reclusive, obsessed with a particular grave in the local cemetery. She'd spent a great deal of time going through the local newspaper office's microfiche collection and the local historical association's archives to find out anything she could about the person buried there. Although her schoolwork hadn't suffered, she had begun spending more and more time off campus. Students had observed her, several times, apparently having one-sided conversations with imaginary people. At some point she'd stopped sleeping. Just prior to the public meltdown that had resulted in Cassidy being committed, the staff of the school had confined her to the school grounds in an attempt to prevent Cassidy from spending every moment, when she was not directly involved with school activities, at the grave she had become obsessed with.

Having finally arrived at the hospital, Miranda now stared out a window in the visitation room at the bleak and forlorn ice-covered garden which lay below. She had hoped to arrive at the hospital in time to talk to her beloved daughter before the afternoon round of medications was administered, but today that was not to be. As she waited to see her daughter in that depressing, poorly decorated room, she knew she'd find her little girl so doped up that it would be difficult to carry on a coherent conversation.

The door to the visitor's room opened, and a nurse in a starched uniform led the heartbreaking form of her drugged, dull-eyed, lethargic child. Miranda braced herself, struggling to smile and greet the young girl she continued to fail so badly.

*****

Near dawn on Saturday morning, Cassidy sat huddled on the floor in her hospital room, her hands covering her ears and her eyes tightly shut. There were six ghosts at the moment dancing attendance on her, all six of them talking at the same time. All six demanding her attention. This wasn't an unusual circumstance anymore. She couldn't remember the last good night sleep she'd had. The dead were with her morning, noon, and night. All of these lost souls wanting something. They wanted her to do something, or find something, or tell someone something. They all wanted her to effect some kind of change in the living world that they, themselves, could not manage.

It was really all very confusing. The problem was that she had been forced into her new reality with little in the way of guide posts. What little she knew came from reading books on the subject, and she very quickly had discovered that most of what had been written by the supposed experts were utter crap written by people who'd never seen a ghost.

Cassidy had begun to realize that many of the ghosts didn't even recognize that other ghosts were present. It was like some of them existed in their own little reality and couldn't see or hear anything outside that little bubble. Others would argue endlessly with each other about their place in line and why Cassidy should help them first. She had also had to deal with the fact that some of the ghosts that came to her were truly frightening to look upon. Some with mangled and horrific appearances. She had begun to surmise that those who had died suddenly or violently were often the ones who did not go on. They were the ones with something left to do which kept them on this side of whatever it was that lay beyond the living.

Her ghostly friend Maxie had tried to be sympathetic, tried to help wherever she could, but the fact of the matter was that she was really of little use. Cassidy had realized early on that Maxie was afraid of the other ghosts. Cassidy believed it was because the young girl ghost had spent so much time alone at her grave. Her companion alternated between dearly wanting to pretend she was still alive and occasionally floating the idea that Cassidy should kill herself so that they could be together forever. Cassidy had patiently explained to her ghostly BFF that she simply couldn't leave her twin sister, so the idea of killing herself was just a non-starter.

Cassidy's had struggled for months, trying to figure out the best way to handle her gift as her powers bloomed and she could see and hear more and more of the dead. Each and every day she dearly wished she had Andy around to guide her. Andy had managed to get a message to Cassidy and Caroline after she'd left. She'd sought out Serena and asked the Brazilian woman to say goodbye to the twins for her and to assure them that they had had nothing to do with Andy's departure. She had made sure Serena would assure them that sometimes things happened between adults causing lovers to go their separate ways. The twins had been through it before with all three of their mother's divorces. There were two differences this time. One was that the paparazzi weren't prowling around because no one knew about their mother's romantic involvement with Andy. The second was that this time they missed their mother's companion. The message also had explained to Cassidy that her mother had forbidden her to continue her instruction in becoming a wise-woman. Cassidy understood the extreme regard Andy held for the station of motherhood and that Andy could not and would not defy her mother's prohibition.

As things became progressively more crazy, she'd quickly recognized that her behavior at the school had drawn more scrutiny than usual. At first it had been the other students commenting on her having one-sided conversations with unseen companions. Then questions had begun about the amount of time she had been spending at the graveyard and the research she'd done into who Maxie was and how she'd died so long ago. The school librarian had reported to Mrs. Swineford about Cassidy's upsurge in reading about the paranormal and the inter-library loan requests for a significant number of books on the subject. Mrs. Swineford had instructed the librarian to not order any of the requested books, and Cassidy suddenly had found her reading material being censored. Soon after, Mrs. Swineford had decided that Cassidy's visits to the cemetery were unhealthy, and she had ordered Cassidy to be confined to the campus. That was hard because Maxie's gravesite was the one place where all the other ghosts would leave her alone. It was Maxie's place, she was strong there, and she could protect Cassidy for a little while, allowing her a modicum of peace and quiet.

Cassidy understood she was on thin ice and decided to do all she could to make things appear normal. She thought she'd been doing pretty well until that damned Algebra test. Mathematics in general was not her best subject, and she'd been struggling in the class for most of the semester. The night before the test, the damned ghosts hadn't let her study, and then they had been in the classroom, standing around her desk and arguing while she was trying to write the test. Question number four just didn't make any sense at all, and she'd lost her cool. She loudly and tearfully had told them all to shut the hell up. The teacher had reported the incident to Mrs. Swineford, and the next thing Cassidy knew, she's been locked up in the loony bin.

When she was committed the hospital staff had taken all of her personal possessions. That included the copper locket that she'd found at Maxie's grave. Cassidy had learned that the locket was Maxie's focus. It was what allowed the ghost to be with Cassidy away from where her body was buried. With the locket not in Cassidy's possession and no living being wearing it, Maxie's visits became, by necessity, short in duration, as they used considerable energy of the ghost-girl's limited resources. After each visit, Maxie would have to return to her grave and spend some time there to recoup her energies.

Even worse than that, they hadn't allowed Cassidy to see her twin sister since they'd locked her up. A few carefully monitored telephone conversations were all they had allowed, so she hadn't been able to communicate a number of things she really had wanted to say. She knew her sister better than anybody, and even though Caroline tended to be the follower in their relationship, Cassidy clearly understood her twin's fierce need for fairness. Caroline's overwhelming compulsion to protect and to care for Cassidy whenever she perceived her sister was in trouble convinced Cassidy that Caroline was planning something. The problem was that when Caroline did plan things, they tended to be both elaborate and over-the-top.

Cassidy glanced through the security window grate to the dull gray dawn beyond. The nurse would be by before too long with her breakfast and her morning dose of medication. With any luck, once the pills were in her system she would be able to nod off in the day-room. It was Saturday, so it was likely that her Mother would come by for a visit sometime in the afternoon. She tended to visit on weekend days. Today Cassidy would ask that Caroline be allowed to visit. She needed to make sure her sister wasn't up to anything too outrageous.

*****

On Monday afternoon Caroline sat, depressed, in the library at Mrs. Swineford's Academy. She was ruminating on everything that had occurred since she and her sister had returned to the school after Andy's departure.

For a brief time Caroline had resisted her sister's explanation of what was happening to her. Over the course of several weeks, however, she had witnessed firsthand evidence of supernatural activity revolving around Cassidy with her own eyes. In a long talk one rainy Tuesday evening, Cassidy had explained to Caroline Maxie's otherworldly nature and Cassidy's relationship with the ghost. She had informed Cassidy that Maxie was the one behind keeping them from being pranked and in turn pranking their rivals. Her twin had even shared the secret of the copper locket she now always wore, it being Maxie's focus for allowing her to recharge by tapping in to Cassidy's life energies, allowing her to spend more time away from her grave.

Cassidy had tried to tell her that she was seeing other ghosts too and, soon after, was hearing them as well, but Caroline had been so happy and caught up in her romance with Paola that she had been blind to her sister's increasing distress. Caroline was very angry with herself because she had been so involved in her own pursuits that she hadn't realized how bad things had gotten for her sister before Cassidy had had her meltdown.

Then just over four weeks ago everything went to hell, and Mrs. Swineford had had Cassidy carted off to a mental hospital.

Things had started to get really weird two weeks ago. Caroline had been studying in the library after dinner and, while walking back across campus to the dorm, she had crossed through a shadowy copse of trees. Hearing her name, as if whispered by the wind, she had turned and seen her. Pale blue, translucent, dressed in vintage clothing. She had been able to clearly see the park bench beside the path through the apparition. She had realized immediately and without question that this was Maxie, come to communicate with her. She had stopped and watched as the specter struggled to speak. It had seemed to take everything the ghost had to whisper, "You must save her.” Then, the vision had disappeared.

Two days later, in a spiral-bound notebook that Caroline had been studying notes from the night before, she discovered a scrawled note that read, 'You must take her to Andy'. Days after that, she had dreamed of Maxie. Where before the girl was ghostly in appearance, in this dream she was as Cassidy had describe her. Real, solid, in living color. Maxie had not spoken to her in the dream, but she had held up the copper locket her sister always wore. Caroline was aware that when Cassidy was first put in the hospital, all of her personal effects had been taken from her. She remembered her mother telling her about bringing Carolyn's things home and how hard that had been. The locket had to be at the townhouse.

Upon waking the next morning Caroline immediately had gone to the school office and placed a request to go home the following weekend. She had called her mother that evening and told her that she'd like to come home for a visit. Her mother had informed her that in between work and visiting Cassidy at West Chester, she would not be home much over the course of the weekend. Caroline had told her that she understood, and it was all right. She reassured her mother that during the days of the weekend she would spend time at the library doing research for a school project, and in the evenings they could perhaps spend some time together. Her mother had agreed readily, pleased that Caroline wanted to come home, and told her that she would call the school in the morning and approve the request.

Last weekend Caroline had found her sister's personal possessions laid out carefully on the dresser in Cassidy's bedroom. She had taken the locket and secured it around her own throat, hoping that whatever magic allowed the ghost to renew itself from Cassidy's life force would allow the spirit to do the same from hers. She had an inkling that she was going to need both Maxie's cooperation and help to execute the plan that was beginning to form in her mind.

Last night's customary Sunday evening telephone call from her mother hadn't gone as she'd hoped. Her mother had visited her twin sister at the hospital twice over the course of the weekend, and she had told Caroline that the doctors had not seen the progress they had hoped for in her sister's recovery. They had told her mother that Cassidy should be committed for at least an additional four weeks and be kept under observation. She also told Caroline that, although her sister had virtually begged that Caroline be allowed to visit, the doctors didn't think it a good idea at this time.

During the call, Caroline had once again tried to tell her mother that Cassidy wasn't crazy. It was just that she was being overwhelmed by the sheer number of spirits that were constantly demanding her attention. The damn ghosts wouldn't even let poor Cassidy get a decent night's sleep. She had begged her mother to contact Andy and ask her to return to help Cassidy get through what was happening . Her mother, of course, hadn't wanted to hear it and had forbid Caroline to say more, telling her that she, too, might be placed into the hospital if the wrong people heard her saying such things.

Adding to Caroline's level of depression, winter break was on the horizon, and she and Paola would be parted over the month-long vacation due to Paola's returning to her family's home in Brazil. Paola being away might be for the best, though. Caroling had something important to do, even though what she was planning would likely get her grounded until she was a senior citizen.

Paola reached across the library table and took Caroline's hand in her own. “How long do you think you'll be out of touch?” the girl asked, concern in her voice.

Caroline shook her head and sighed. “No way to tell. I don't have any idea how long the trip will take,” she replied, her fingers nervously brushing her girlfriend's palm.

Paola nodded. “You know, if you get caught, your mother is going to be furious,” she said, repeating an admonishment she had voiced often since Paola had become privy to Caroline's plan.

Caroline had also shared her intentions with her few confidants among the student body. Paola's concern was strictly for Caroline and her safety. Caroline's other friends had been more excited about the adventure the girl had planned and had aided and abetted her at every turn.

Jade, the girl that was supposedly Caroline's roommate and one of her best friends at the school, walked up to the table and dropped a paper-wrapped package in front of Caroline.

“What's this?” Caroline asked, looking at the label on the wrapping. She couldn't imagine why there was something evidently mailed to Jade from Medicalsupplyexperts.com sitting on the table in front of her.

Jade smiled. “It's a candy striper's uniform! It's not really candy-striped. They don't do that anymore, but it's an authentic uniform! When you go to spring Cassidy from the hospital, it will allow you to move around without raising suspicion! Marissa brought one of her older sister's wigs back with her from her weekend visit home. Without your head full of red hair, nobody will notice the resemblance between you and your sister, and in clothes that belong there, nobody will look at you twice! It should give you enough time to find Cassidy and figure a way the two of you can get out of the loony bin!”

Caroline smiled. “You're a great friend Jade. Marissa, too!”

Jade smiled and shivered excitedly. “You said that the witch who stayed at your house told you Cassidy was talking to ghosts. I believe in ghosts; ergo, Cassidy isn't crazy,” she offered emphatically. “It's just the Gestapo that runs this place all have their noses so far up Mrs. Swineford's butt that they don't dare believe anything that isn't absolutely vanilla. Not even with any sprinkles or anything! If they dared to, nasty old Mrs. Swineford would fire them.”

Paola looked at Jade and then again at Caroline. “It's a long way from New York to Florida,” she offered quietly. “And you, yourself, have said that this Andy lives out in the middle of a swamp somewhere. How are you going to find her?” she asked worriedly.

Caroline shrugged. “I've got the name of the town that's nearby. I'll get Cassidy that far. After that, I have to admit that I'm kind of hoping and praying that Andy will finds us. She always sort of knew what was going on around her before it ever happened.”

“I'm afraid for you Caroline,” Paola offered softly, squeezing her hand. “I know you have to do this. That your sister is closer to you than a normal sibling because she's your twin. But I don't know what I'd do if anything bad happened to you. I...I love you.”

Caroline's heart swelled with joy. Paola cared about her! Really cared! “I'll be careful, Paola,” she promised quietly. “But I have to do this. I can't leave things the way they are. My sister is locked up because nobody will believe that all the ghosts talking to her all the time won't shut up and leave her alone long enough for her to even get a decent night's sleep. Cassidy can't go on like that. You saw how run down she was before they took her away. On the phone last night Mom said that she hasn't gotten any better, so I have to get her out of that place and take her to where Andy is. Andy is the only one that can help her. The only one who can teach her to deal with what's happening to her.”

Paola nodded, “I wish I didn't have to go home. I wish I could make this trip at your side.”

Caroline leaned over and dared to kiss Paola on the cheek. “It's enough that only one of us is going to get in trouble for this harebrained scheme,” she smiled.

At that moment Caroline and Cassidy's other friend, Marissa, walked up to the library table, an older girl close on her heels. Caroline didn't really know the older girl but vaguely recognized her from around campus. Marissa slid into a seat across from Caroline and smiled. “Caroline, meet Brianna. Brianna, Caroline.” The two girls warily regarded each other. “I thought you two should meet and talk,” Marissa added. “I think Brianna might be able to give you some information you'd find useful.”

“What kind of information?” Carolyn asked curiously.

“Oh floor-plans, staff schedules, where the security guards are likely to be,” Marissa grinned. “I knew if I asked around this place, I'd find somebody who'd spent time in Four Winds. Brianna was there about two years ago."

Caroline looked at the new girl at her table. “Anything you could tell me would be really helpful."

Brianna regarded Caroline as if sizing her up. She licked her lips. “Do you really intend to break your sister out of there?” the girl asked.

“I'm going to try,” Carolyn affirmed.

Brianna considered her for brief moment, and then nodded. “Do you know what ward they have her in?”

Caroline nodded and answered, “C Ward.”

Brianna sighed. "If she's in C Ward, they probably have her on suicide watch. That means an orderly will look in on her every fifteen minutes. Once you get to her, you're not gonna have a lot of time. I'll draw some floor plans and write down what I can remember. I can show you how to jigger the locks in the rooms. If you can get her by security and out of the building, I also know a quick way off the hospital grounds. Some of us used it to sneak in and out of the hospital to go to town."

The girl sat down next to Paola and, pulling a notebook out of her backpack, began to sketch a crude floor plan.

*****

Serena was starving. There hadn't been time for breakfast this morning, as Emily would not let her out of bed until they both were very nearly late for work. She stuck her head out of her office and carefully surveyed the accessories department. Emily was nowhere in sight. Serena had to move cautiously. Andy had been right when she had warned the Brazilian beauty that love magic could be dangerous. When Emily saw her, the Brit often couldn't control her reaction. Serena had lost count of the number of places they had furtively made love in the Elias-Clarke building.

She hurried her steps across the department, made it to the elevators undetected, and pressed the down button. She would go out to one of the street vendors and buy herself some breakfast. She'd buy Emily some too, but she'd find some imaginary errand necessitating sending one of the clackers that worked for her in the Accessories department up to Miranda's office to deliver it. That way Emily would know that Serena was thinking about her and caring for her welfare without them having to see each other face to face.

She felt pretty good about her plan and just the tiniest bit invincible, as, still unobserved by the determined English huntress that stalked her through the hall of Runway, the ding sounded, announcing the elevator car's arrival. The doors swept back to reveal her lasciviously grinning redheaded stalker. Hands snaked out of the elevator doorway, pulling her into the car, and the doors closed behind her.

*****

Nigel sighed as he walked away from the security gate at the airport. He'd just seen Doug off. Nigel was used to Doug traveling at this juncture in their relationship, and oh, my, yes, it had become a relationship. A committed one, with all the attendant promises to each other. Being that Doug was just beginning his career as a county music artist, usually he would only be gone for short stints to sing in some of the smaller venues. A tour was on the horizon, but that would be in support of Doug's first album and was still in the early stages of development.

This trip was different. Doug's friend Lily had called the day before yesterday. There was apparently trouble in Doug's hometown. Lily was being pressured to sell her shop, as were the owners of all the other businesses in Slippery Bottom. Doug felt the need to go and support Lily. Consequently, he had no planned return date.

If he had had the liberty, Nigel would have taken vacation days and accompanied his lover, but with Miranda as caught up as she was in the crisis that her home-life had become, and with Irv's plotting gaining ground, Miranda was distracted. It fell to Nigel to do all he could to hold off the forces conspiring to ruin the magazine to which he'd dedicated his professional life. He would stay in touch with Doug by phone and do all he could to help Doug from here in New York. He had no intention of being separated from his lover any longer than was absolutely necessary. If it turned out Doug was gone any significant length of time, Nigel would take personal days and follow.

*****

It had been easier than Caroline would've imagined. The candy striper uniform, a long black wig, some pale concealer, black lipstick, and dark eye makeup, and she didn't look anything like herself. She had walked through the main doors of the hospital at change of shift and, because of a plethora of directional signs at every corridor intersection, found her way to C Ward with no one questioning or stopping her.

Once in C Ward, it was simply a matter of walking down the hallways, looking at the patient room doors. Each door had a handwritten name tag in bold black magic marker inserted into a holder on the door. Caroline had done her homework and knew that arriving with the three o'clock shift change would mean that the patients would, soon after, be moved back from the day-room and placed in their individual rooms. This was done to facilitate the staff distributing prescribed medications to their patients, routinely scheduled for four o'clock. Caroline loitered near the door to Cassidy's room until the hall was empty. Then she entered and did what she could to conceal herself by sliding under the utilitarian metal bed frame. Approximately fifteen minutes later, her twin sister was led into the room. The orderly that was with her gave her a gentle push through the doorway and then closed it behind her. Caroline could hear the click of the door lock being turned. She counted off thirty seconds before sliding out from her hiding place. “Cassidy,” she whispered, gaining her sister's attention.

Her twin looked at her, obviously struggling to focus. “Caroline, what are you doing here?” she asked. "They don't let visitors back into patient rooms.”

Caroline nodded, and smiled at her other self. “Wouldn't be much of a rescue plan if anybody in authority knew I was here, would it?” She reached for her throat and undid Maxie's copper locket that she had worn since she'd taken it from her sister's dresser. “I don't know if my wearing it helped or not. I was hoping that Maxie would be able to take energy from me. Get strong, because we could certainly use some supernatural help to get us out of here.”

“Maxie? You...you've seen Maxie?” Cassidy stammered. “Caro, everybody keeps telling me that what I see and hear isn't real. That I'm mentally ill, and my mind is playing tricks on me.” Tears were forming in Cassidy's drugged eyes. “I'm a mess, Sis. I don't know what to believe anymore. And Maxie hasn't come to me in a long time. I still have a bunch of others, but I thought Maxie liked me. I thought she'd be here with me. To help me through this.”

Caroline nodded. “Without you wearing the locket, she hasn't had the energy to be here while she's been coming to me to tell me I had to get you out of here. I think it takes a lot out of her to make me see her. I don't have your gift. I think she has to spend a lot energy, and without you wearing her locket, she just hasn't had the energy.”

Cassidy shook her head. “You need to get out of here. If anybody catches you, you'll be in big trouble. God! Mom will skin you alive!”

Caroline nodded her understanding of her sister's concern. “You're right. Mom is going to be furious with me before this is over, but Maxie says that the only person that can help you is Andy. So, Mom being mad notwithstanding, I'm taking you to Andy so she can help you.”

Cassidy shook her head, perhaps trying to clear the fuzzy feelings the drugs produced, as Caroline went over to the door and pressed her ear against it. “You're crazy,” Cassidy asserted. “Even if we can get past that locked door and out of the hospital, how the hell would we get all the way to Florida? The hospital will have the police out looking for us as soon as they know I'm missing, and when Mom finds out, she's likely to do something like phone the governor and have him call out the National Guard!”

Caroline, still concentrating on listening to what was going on in the hallway, smiled knowingly. “Getting to Florida is the easy part. I bought a car," she answered easily.

“A car? You don't even have a license!” Cassidy exclaimed.

“I've spent a lot of time on the driving simulator at school over the last two weeks.” She moved quickly from the door to beside the bed. She crouched down and spoke softly, “They're coming with the medication cart. Don't swallow any. I need you on your feet and able to move, at least until we get to the car.” She then lay flat on the floor and slid partway under the bed.

Cassidy leaned over and stared at her sister under the bed. “You know this is nuts, right? If you do this, Mom will ground you for so long that you'll be old and gray before you ever see the light of day again. And you can forget about being allowed to date Paola!”

“It's already too late, Sis,” Caroline whispered as she disappeared from sight. “In for a penny, in for a pound. Now do whatever you normally do when they come with your meds, and don't let on that I'm here.”

Cassidy huffed and, turning toward the door, sat on the end of the bed.

A few minutes later a key rattled in the door lock, and Gary, one of the creepier hospital orderlies, stood on the threshold, holding a medication cup. She had heard from some of the older girls in the day-room that Gary would cop feels and sometimes even offered extra drugs for sexual favors. Cassidy considered herself fortunate that she was apparently younger than he liked and she had not had to fend off any such advances.

He stepped in to the room and held out the small paper container with her afternoon medications in it, stretching out his hand and imperiously rattling the pills in the cup. It was then Cassidy felt things change. The three ghosts that had been dancing attendance on her at the moment shrieked and fled through the walls, and suddenly Maxie was there, standing protectively between her and the orderly. The temperature in the room dropped like a stone into a deep well, and Cassidy could see her breath. Maxie reached out and ran her hand through the man standing in the doorway. He jerked back, dropping the cup and scattering the pills across the floor. His entire body trembled, he paled, and goosebumps rose on his flesh. He took a staggering step backward toward the door, and then thought better of it. Looking, unseeing, past where Maxie stood before him, he snarled at Cassidy, "Take your damn pills. I'll be back later to check and make sure you did." He slammed the door to Cassidy's cell. The sound of the key rattling in the lock was loud in the quiet room. Maxie, more substantial than Cassidy had seen her in quite a while, turned and hugged her. Cassidy sighed softly as the chilly caress encircled her. She was safe now; her twin and her otherworldly BFF were here with her.

Caroline slid out from under the bed and rose to a crouch. “Is Maxie here?” she asked, glancing nervously around the room.

Cassidy nodded. “She's here in front of me, giving me a hug.”

Caroline moved from beside the bed to the door. “We have about fifteen minutes before they come to check on you again.”

Cassidy chuckled bitterly, “You don't need to worry. Gary's the orderly tonight. He's about as lazy as a human being can be. He won't look in on me until around lights out at the earliest. The creep tries to catch girls changing into their pajamas. ”

Caroline slipped a credit card out of the pocket of her candy striper uniform. She approached the door and carefully slipped the plastic rectangle between the door and the doorjamb just above the level of the lock.

“What are you doing?” Cassidy asked, moving toward the doorway.

Caroline closed her eyes and, obviously concentrating, drew the card down slowly. “One of the older girls at school was locked up here for eight months a couple of years back. She told me that this is how a bunch of girls from another ward used to get out of their rooms so they could sneak out and go into town to party.”

Cassidy watched with interest as Caroline drew the card level with the locking mechanism. There was an audible click and Caroline smiled. “I'll be doggone; it worked!” She exclaimed. Being careful to hold the card where it continued to keep the latch-bolt depressed, she opened the door far enough to stick her head out. She glanced up and down the hall. Pulling her head back in she turned and said to Cassidy, "All's clear. Now listen, we're going to the stairwell at the end of the hall. We go down to the ground level and out the door. Go left and stick close to the building. When we come to the end of the building, we run for the tree line on the other side of the yard. Once in the trees, the wall is just about fifty feet. If you step up on the back of the bench, you can reach the top of the wall and pull yourself up and over. The car I bought is parked just up the street on the other side of the wall.”

Cassidy shook her head, “I knew you'd have this planned to the nth degree,” she chuckled. “I suppose you have a plan as to what comes after we get to the car?”

Caroline looked at her sister and licked her lips. “Maxie told me that Andy is the only one that can help you. I have maps to get us to the little town near where she lives. After getting there, things get a little fuzzy. I'm sort of counting on Andy finding us or Maxie finding Andy.”

Cassidy turned her head, listened to Maxie for a moment. She smiled and turned, speaking to her sister. “Maxie says that she's really impressed with you. That she wants to thank you for all you're doing and that she wishes that she had a sister like you.”

Caroline smiled. “Just tell her that whatever she can do to run interference so we get out of here without anybody knowing for a little while would be appreciated. I'd like to have a few miles between us and anybody who's looking for us.”

Cassidy laughed softly. “You just did, Sis,” she said. "She can hear everything you say. She's been close to you ever since you put on the locket."

Caroline's eyes widened, and she blushed scarlet Cassidy smiled wickedly. “Yes, she saw your little make out session with Paola. Good going, Sis. I didn't know you had it in you."

Cassidy grinned as Caroline muttered darkly under her breath while leading them out of the room and down the deserted hallway. Quickly they traversed the stairwell and reached the door that led to the outside. Again, Caroline used the credit card, this time to unlock the door. She motioned Cassidy through, following after carefully closing the door behind her. The click of the lock was clearly audible when the doors fully shut. Even though the hour was only early evening, it was dark out. The sun set early this time of year, and the overcast gray days accompanying the recent foul weather helped obscure the hospital grounds. Caroline pointed along the length of the building and started moving in that direction. Once at the end of the building, she paused as Cassidy grasped her shoulder.

“What's your plan for handling the guard dogs?” Cassidy whispered.

“Guard dogs?” Caroline squeaked, “What guard dogs?”

“There are two guard dogs that they turn out inside the grounds about dark every evening. I heard them barking every night since I got here.” Cassidy looked hard at her sister. “You do have a plan for dealing with the dogs, don't you?”

Caroline cursed softly under her breath. “Brianna didn't say anything about guard dogs! Maybe they didn't have them when she was a patient here.” She sighed heavily and glanced across the open yard to the tree line on the other side. “No help for it now. We have to make it over the wall and get to the car.”

Cassidy was quiet for a moment as Maxie spoke to her, smiling in relief. “Maxie says she can keep the dogs off us.” She took a deep breath and, stepping from the shadow of the building, she started across the yard at a brisk jog. Caroline was close on her heels.

About half way across the open space, a shape suddenly bounded rapidly toward them out of the darkness. It was somewhat indistinct in the dim light, but Cassidy could make out a broad chest and lean flanks. It's head was up, and it had standing pointed ears. She was fairly sure that it was a Doberman Pinscher, a breed she knew was favored as a guard dog. She turned her head and concentrated on making the tree line, urging Caroline to follow quickly.

The dog was simply too fast. Cassidy heard Caroline cry out, and she whipped her head around to see that the dog had nipped at Caroline's heel, causing her to fall. Cassidy was terrified that the dog would have her sister in its jaws in the next few heartbeats. That didn't happen, though. Cassidy saw Maxie run in front of Caroline, shielding her from the guard dog while she got up. The dog shied away from Maxie, whining. Cassidy watched with relief as Caroline scrambled to get herself upright, turning her head and looked at the dog that had so nearly had her. It was down on the ground, as flat as it could make itself, eyes wide with fear, shivering and whimpering. It didn't appear hurt, just terrified. Catching her sister's eye, Cassidy grinned and ran toward the trees A few steps later, Cassidy pointed out the bench where it sat against the wall. It was but a moment's work, and both were up and over.

Minutes later Cassidy stared, unbelieving of what she was seeing. Under a streetlamp sat a nineteen-ninety-nine Pontiac Sunfire Coupe. Its body showed three different colors of paint, mostly purple, with one quarter panel in an electric blue, and numerous splotches where gray primer paint had been used to treat rust. “You have to be kidding,” Cassidy said flatly.

“Hey, what do you want for eight hundred dollars?” Caroline exclaimed defensively. “It goes. That was the major criteria. That and buying it privately, for cash, from someone that didn't ask too many questions. I found it in a newspaper ad. It's still registered in the previous owner's name, and it still has his license plate on it. The older girl who pretended to be me when she picked up the car, told him that Mom was going to register it for me on my birthday early next month. He thinks it's going to be sitting in a body shop having work done on it and getting repainted until then!”

Cassidy shook her head again, amazed at how much thought her sister had put into this rescue. She turned and smiled at her other self. “You know, I couldn't have done better than having you for a sister,” she laughed, opening the passenger door.

“Oh, I don't know,” Caroline beamed under the praise. “You could have been Rhianna's or Beyonce's twin.”

Cassidy struggled for a moment with the front passenger seatbelt. She again looked to her sister, who was now behind the wheel buckling her own seatbelt, and shook her head. “I wouldn't trade you for both of them,” she said from the heart.

Caroline crossed her fingers on her left hand and put the key in the ignition. She closed her eyes, and Cassidy began to get nervous. “I take it, it has trouble starting?” she asked.

Caroline nodded. “The guy said the alternator is going, among a few other things. But he said it should be good for one more long trip!” She turned the key. The engine struggled a bit before catching. Caroline engaged her turn signal and after carefully looking up and down the deserted street, pulled out of the parking place to start their journey. Cassidy fervently hoped that they could find Andy and that she could help her deal with what was happening to her.

*****

Lily stood behind the counter of Lily's Blossoms and stared back at the fat, sweaty man who stood on the other side of the divider. He mopped his brow with a handkerchief from his breast pocket of his light colored suit jacket. “Now, Mizz Freedman,” he continued, “the offer on the table for your shop is quite fair, generous even, considering the depressed economic condition of this town.”

Lily grit her teeth. “Business here wouldn't be depressed if the company you represent hadn't convinced the Florida Department of Transportation to give you the contract to rebuild the road from the highway into town. You tore up almost the entire length of it four months ago. It's virtually impassible, and nobody has done any work on it since!”

The fat man continued to smile his unpleasant smile. “The road needed considerably more work than was originally anticipated,” he explained. “We discovered that the roadbed had deteriorated, and replacing it just wasn't in the originally bid job. We had to go back to the officials at the Department of Transportation. They, in turn, had to go back to the legislature to have them approve the additional funds necessary. And you know how long it takes for the legislature to approve anything these days,” he said superciliously.

“And of course, it wouldn't have anything at all to do with the fact that the company you represent wants to buy up all the swampland around here for some cockamamie development scheme,” Lily retorted.

“Mizz Freedman,” he replied, “I'm sure that I have no idea what you're talking about."

Lily snorted, glancing at Doug, who was sitting in his usual chair with his guitar in his lap, just as if he'd never left Slippery Bottom. Doug's eyes were on the man, and Lily knew that he was recording their conversation with a tiny pocket tape recorder that his boyfriend had given him. She wasn't alone anymore. Doug was here to help her figure this thing out. “You can tell your boss, Mr. Potter, the same as I told you last week and the week before that and the week before that. My shop ain't for sale,” she snapped.

“That is most unfortunate, Mizz Freedman,” the fat man replied, "because I understand that the offer on the table has a shelf life. Soon things will change around here, and I fear that the amount offered for your property may drop sharply.”

“You could offer me twice what you're offering. In fact, you could offer me twice what it's really worth, and I still wouldn't sell to you,” Lily proclaimed. "Now get the hell out of my store.”

“I fear you will live to regret this decision, Mizz Freedman,” the fat man said ominously before striding angrily from the shop.

*****

It just ain't th' same, Andy thought to herself, as she dropped her fishing line off of the end of the hummock that her cabin sat on. Before she had been lonely, but she hadn't realized how lonely she'd been. Now without Cassidy and Caroline and, most importantly, without Miranda in her life, her soul was being crushed under the weight of her loss. On returning to Slippery Bottom, she had thought to make Miss Lily her friend, but Miss Lily was just too afraid of the legend of Hattie and of the closeted attraction the African-American woman bore for her own sex. Andy shook her head. She couldn't understand why so many people outside didn't understand that God loved all his children and he made each and every one exactly as they were supposed to be. It seemed so simple to her. He couldn't make mistakes; that's why he was God.

She had tried to read the cards, to see what came next, but as always, trying to read her own future provided only dim glimpses. Momma had always told her that it was so. What you could do for someone else as easily as breathing was hard when it came to looking inward. She sighed. Upheaval was coming, things were going to change violently, and she couldn't see how they were going to turn out. It made her uneasy to say the least.

Her familiar, Ol' Toothless, only his eyes and leathery back above the surface of the water, his long reptilian tale swishing a lazy “S” pattern, glided out of the tall grasses on the far side of the pond around the island, driving a school of good-sized fish before him. Andy smiled. At least dinner tonight wouldn't be a problem.

*****

It was predawn when Miranda received the telephone call from the hospital, informing her Cassidy's disappearance. She was informed that it was only at shift change at midnight that her disappearance was discovered. The hospital staff was certain that her daughter couldn't have gotten far, as the nighttime orderly reported that he had been checking on her every fifteen minutes, as was policy for patients in Ward C. The hospital administration had immediately initiated a search of the hospital and the grounds, figuring she had to be close by. When the missing patient hadn't been found after three hours of searching, the local police were notified and began searching the areas surrounding the hospital. Now, almost five hours later, Cassidy was nowhere to be found.

Miranda, knowing her daughter, guessed that Cassidy would seek out Caroline. Each of her daughters were calmer and able to think more clearly in their sister's presence. If Cassidy had been upset enough to flee the hospital, she would need the comfort her sister could provide. Caroline had left the school, yesterday afternoon, at the beginning of the term break. She had told her mother a week ago that she had decided to spend some time with her father during the first week of the vacation. Miranda called her ex-husband right away, only to discover that he was out of the country on business and not expected back until early next month. A cold chill ran down Miranda's spine. Caroline had lied to her and was evidently involved in Cassidy's escape from the hospital.

Caroline had been forbidden to visit Cassidy at the hospital. Cassidy's psychiatrist, insisting it was for Cassidy's good, had directed Miranda to not allow them to see each other. Miranda was aware how this had been hard on both girls. They depended on each other. Caroline had repeatedly told her that Cassidy shouldn't be in the hospital. She claimed Cassidy's problems were supernatural in nature and no amount of psychiatric treatment was going to fix what was troubling her. Miranda had dismissed the idea. She had placed her faith in the certainty that the mental health professionals would find a way to help Cassidy, and then they would return her to her normal life.

Now both of her darling daughters were missing. The twins hadn't returned home, so they must have had a plan to help Cassidy. For the life of her, though, she couldn't figure out what their plan might be. It was ludicrous even to consider that they would try and find Andy. They couldn't possibly think they could get to Florida. They had to know she would move heaven and earth, looking for them. They were so young. They'd have to use public transportation. She reached for the telephone and called her first assistant. “Emily,” she said as soon as the telephone was answered. “Apparently, my daughters have decided to run away. Contact the police in Salem, New York, immediately. Tell them to check any and all forms of public transportation in and around the town. Tell them I have a suspicion that the twins may be heading south. That's all.”

*****

Caroline drove until she felt that she couldn't drive safely any more. They had made it almost eleven hours on the road and pulled off at a rest stop just past Smithfield, North Carolina. They parked under a streetlamp, and after using the restroom facilities, they returned to the car. Cassidy watched Caroline reclined in the driver's seat and scooted her body down in it, laying her head back against the headrest. “I'll just get a few hours sleep, and then we can go on,” she said.

Cassidy nodded. “How far do we have to go?” she asked.

“We're not quite halfway yet. It's probably about another twelve or thirteen hours. We'll know we're halfway when we see a tourist trap called South of the Border,” her sister offered sleepily.

Cassidy smiled and reclined in her own seat. She was just about to drift off when she became suddenly aware of a new presence in the car. Turning around and looking into the back seat, she saw a middle-aged black woman sitting quietly beside Maxie, looking back. Cassidy glanced to where her sister slept and back to the woman. Placing a finger to her lips and nodding to her sleeping sister, she motioned for the woman to follow. She quietly opened the car door and walked to a picnic bench. The woman and Maxie didn't bother with the doors and just sort of flowed out of the vehicle.

Cassidy watched them come to where she sat. Maxie nodded to the woman, and the woman sat down across the picnic table from Cassidy. “I need your help,” the middle-aged woman said in a ghostly whisper.

Cassidy was never quite sure if she actually heard what the ghosts said to her with her ears or if it was some form of telepathic communication where she heard them with her mind. It seemed that virtually all the ghosts she conversed with only were able to whisper, although a handful of others seemed only able to scream at her. Maxie was the exception. She spoke with the same range of volume and inflection as any of Cassidy's living friends. If Maxie was allowing this ghost close to Cassidy, she figured Maxie was okay with this and maybe even sympathetic to whatever this ghost's plight might be. Cassidy nodded. “I'm willing to listen,” she offered.

The older woman nodded. “My husband is a tractor-trailer driver, parked back in the big-rig parking. He's not taking care of himself since my passing. He's a pre-diabetic, he's not eating right, not getting enough exercise, driving too many hours, and he's been drinking. I need you to let him know I'm okay. That I'm still here with him and will be until the Lord decides to call him home. But I don't want that reunion sooner than it has to be. Our daughters have young families, our girls need their daddy, and their children need their granddaddy. Would you go over there with me? Help me talk to him? Please?” she asked.

Cassidy looked at the woman. It was obvious that this was important to her. She sighed. “You realize it's likely if I go over and knock on the door of his truck, telling him that you want to talk to him, he'll think I'm nuts.”

“I can tell you things that will make him believe you,” the ghost woman said. “He's a good man, a religious man. He believes in the hereafter. I could have gone on. To heaven or whatever it is that comes next, but I knew that my illness had weighed on him. I was sick a long time, and he couldn't stay home with me. He had to be out making a living for our family. He was hauling a load cross country when I passed, and he hasn't forgiven himself for not being with me.”

Cassidy looked to Maxie, who was unusually quiet. “What do you think, Maxie?” she asked.

“I think that a good deed might see you through in a time of need,” the ghost girl answered cryptically.

Cassidy was getting used to the fact that if she asked a ghost a simple question, she was likely to get a riddle for an answer. It just seemed to be the way things worked. She sighed again and got up. Looking around, she saw the signs indicating the direction to where the trucks were to park. “Okay,” she said tiredly. “Maxie, would you please stay close to the car and keep an eye on Caroline as she sleeps?” she asked her ghostly friend. After Maxie agreed, Cassidy turned to the spirit who had asked for her assistance and continued. “Come show me which truck your husband is in, and we'll see if I can convince him that you're here and want to have a few words with him.”

*****

With the middle-aged ghost's coaching, it took Cassidy all of about fifteen minutes to convince the woman's truck driver widower that his wife's spirit was indeed still on this side of the pearly gates. For the next hour she played conduit, allowing the spirit to express her fears about his behaviors and the toll they were taking on his health. When she left them, sitting side by side in the cab of the truck, he understood that his wife's ghost was with him and would remain at his side until his time came. Tears and thank yous from both parties were present as Cassidy left to return to the car. She slipped quietly into the passenger seat and settled herself. She, too, was feeling the need for some sleep. She felt the cool caress of her ghostly companion and heard the girl singing to her softly as she drifted off to her first untroubled sleep in a very long time.

*****

A recurring, struggling, grinding sound disturbed Cassidy's slumber. Bleary-eyed, she was pulled from sleep, and turning, she noticed her sister's panicked face. Caroline turned the key in the car' s ignition, and Cassidy identified the sound that had woken her as the engine struggling but not catching. The sound of the engine struggling to start became weaker and weaker each time the key was turned until there was nothing but a click. Caroline closed her eyes, and a tear ran down her face. "He promised me that it had one more long trip in it. He promised!" She turned her sister. "All I wanted is to get you to Andy. I planned so carefully, and I tried really hard."

Cassidy smiled at her sister, reaching out to brush the tear away from her sister's face. "You did fine, Caro," she said softly. "I wouldn't have gotten anywhere near this far without you." She turned and looked at the passenger that Caroline couldn't see in the back seat. "Is this what you meant by a time of need?" she asked her incorporeal friend.

Maxie shrugged. “I knew something was coming, but not what it would be," the spirit replied. “When the other...ghost...” she hesitated, never liking to acknowledge the fact that she wasn't just a normal, living teenage girl, “showed up, I knew that she would be able to offer something to help you.”

With a nod, Cassidy turned to her sister "Sis, I think I know where we might be able to get a ride," she offered.

On to Chapter 11


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Wonderful as always. I love the worlds you create!

Thank you for the find words. I'm pleased that you enjoy the rather strange worlds I like to populate. If you'll stay with this story, things really begin happening in the next installment. Thank you for reading me.

I do so love this story! Thanks for the update. Looking forward to more. I'm praying your muse feels inspired to write more soon 😉. Thanks for sharing.

I'm glad you're enjoying this story. My Muse seems to be cooperating for once and I should have another installment to post soon. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!

BEST icon award goes to you, just wonderful!!!!

If you're talking about the Minion M & A, I must say the credit goes to Jazzy (Jazwriter) because she so graciously let me steal it from her. LOL But, thanks!

Indeed I am and ALWAYS props to Jazzy!

This was great. I love the twins and the brilliant escape plan.
Thanks for the read.

I, too, love the twins as characters. Cassidy is on a strange journey in this tale. I think you're likely to get a kick out of where she ends up. Thanks for reading me and for taking the time to comment. More soon!

Loving this story and thrilled to see you writing more of it. Simply wonderful.

I'm pleased that you like my AU. My Muse is being kind to me and I'm suddenly making progress again in my writing. Another installment soon. Thank you for reading and commenting.

See! Storyteller right there!!!

Not sure how I missed this chapter, but what a chapter. Sheesh. MP is Gina be so pissd at herself when she figures out just how big of a mistake she made all the way around!

Excellent, bb. Hope the muse is happy :)

What a fun adventure the girls and their helpers are on. I hope Miranda stews a bit, I didn't appreciate her neglecting her family. Can't wait for more, thank you!

The complexity and the emotions are only surpassed by your detail and imagination. Just a great read! I have re-read it all twice since you posted the new chapters. I love the world you have created. WAY out there, to be sure, but fascinating! AND SO WELL WRITTEN!

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